Gareth Bale demonstrated what we knew all along in midweek, with two goals and two assists against Sevilla at the Bernabeu—that the world's most expensive player has a powerful physique and a great left foot.
Just before that game, in both Madrid and in England there was a sense people were holding their breath.
The media wanted Bale to succeed, which is at odds with what tends to happen usually with a player who's cost a lot of money. But there's a general sense that Bale is a good guy and a good player. Most would agree he's not worth the money Real Madrid paid, but it was still sad to see him not thriving.
Bale went through a lot of stress in preseason, and his introduction to the Madrid team wasn't ideal. He was eased back against Malaga, then a little more against Juventus and Barça, and then a full game against Sevilla.
His club is learning to be careful. My sources at Madrid tell me Bale is very aware of his body, and if he doesn't feel right he will mention it. For now he's saying he's fine, so expect them to keep pushing him until he says otherwise.
Madrid are approaching Bale's fitness intelligently. He wasn't asked to track back against Sevilla and that saved his legs. It was a risk that could have created a lot of danger in behind him, but that will change over time as he gets fitter. Bale is a hard worker and will willingly put the yards in.
But everybody is very aware that his strange preseason will affect him negatively at some point, that he will not be able to demand as much of him as he has done when he had put the usual work in the summer. Expect a poorer Bale perhaps in January or February. But look what he did against Sevilla -a not fully match fit Bale is still a dangerous Bale.
It was Angel Di Maria who was sacrificed for him against Sevilla, which was a shame because he has probably been Madrid's most in-form player this season. But Bale made his point.
I can only see Madrid getting stronger from here. I've said already I can see them winning the league this season—I said it even after their Clasico defeat to Barcelona. With Xabi Alonso back, Bale getting better and a strong physical side in place, Carlo Ancelotti has the tools he needs.
I have my doubts about Barcelona. They're not controlling the game as they once did, which is causing Xavi and Andres Iniesta to do a lot more running. You could see it in the Barcelona derby on Friday -they don't attack anymore as a unit, a lot is being left to the individuals. If they do not defend with the ball, as they are not doing now, the physical demand on the team is excessive and it might make their season a long one. Results are arriving, but performance are still not convincing.
Barca won the first Clasico, but the return at the Bernabeu could define the season. As for Atletico, they are up there right now, but I can't see them staying there for the rest of the season.
It's Madrid vs. Barca, and my prediction is that Bale will end up on the winning side.